Ohio State men's basketball: This team all about development
Ohio State will look to junior forward Deshaun Thomas as its No.?1 scoring option.
Key offensive players
Deshaun Thomas led all scorers in the NCAA Tournament with a 19.2-point average, which helped elevate him to preseason All-America status this season. Now he’ll have to find ways to score while attracting the extra attention that Jared Sullinger commanded last season. With no inside threat on offense, Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross will have to score more from the perimeter or off the dribble.
Key defensive players
The unit could be fearsome if it meshes like “five guys connected,” as coach Thad Matta likes to say. Craft, the Big Ten defensive player of the year last season, sets the bar, but Smith, Thompson and Shannon Scott also are capable of wreaking havoc and forcing turnovers. Perimeter pressure and denial will be a key to keep the heat, and the fouls, off the big men inside.
As a freshman, Thompson mostly sat behind senior William Buford unless his raw athleticism was needed on defense. Thompson polished his shooting stroke in the offseason and could contribute in a number of ways if his line score from the exhibition game last week is a reliable indicator. In 29 minutes against Walsh, he had 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots, two steals and no turnovers.
Best offseason move
The university’s switch to semesters from quarters, and a simultaneous NCAA rule change giving coaches access to players during the summer, provided the Buckeyes far more organized time on the court than they had in past offseasons. Between the end of last season in April and the start of practice in mid-October, they had only three or four weeks away from coaching. Such access allowed for more skill development and a more gradual implementation of the system for this season.
The pressure is on …
Thomas. For the first time since he finished as the third-leading scorer in Indiana high-school history, Thomas is the go-to guy again. He is relishing it. But having the target on his back in a conference such as the Big Ten will be unlike anything he has experienced. To a lesser extent, there are expectations for Ross on a team that lacks proven scorers. His high-school reputation has made him a focal point of fans since he signed with Ohio State.
The season will be framed by a pair of big bookends. Even with a team that is searching for ways to score, Matta was not shy about jumping into the deep end immediately, with four road or neutral-site games among its first six, against teams from the Big East, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Coast and, possibly, the Pac-12. If the Buckeyes can build confidence through that, it will toughen them for the stretch in February and March, when their road to a fourth straight Big Ten championship goes through Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, not to mention
Stat that must change
For a deep and athletic team planning to live off its defense, the exhibition was an inauspicious debut. Yes, the Buckeyes scored 28 points off turnovers, but when Walsh didn’t turn the ball over, it shot 48.3 percent from the field — including 50 percent from behind the three-point arc — by taking advantage of Ohio State’s defensive lapses in transition and the half-court. “We learned some lessons,” Craft said. “One of them is getting back in transition defense.” Failing to do so, he said, “is going to lose us basketball games.”
I thought when the preseason rankings were released that No. 4 was high for a team that lost the school’s third-leading career scorer in
Buford and a two-time All-American in Sullinger. That doesn’t mean the Buckeyes can’t rise to that level. This is Matta’s most athletic group since the 2007 NCAA finalist. The team lacks only experience at some positions and the attention to detail that seasoned players bring. If the Buckeyes focus on those details, they can go far again.
Where do they end up?
25-6 overall, 13-5 and third in the Big Ten, and in the NCAA Tournament.